Diving in – and I can’t even swim – I know next to nothing about Taira no Kiyomori, but that won’t stop me from writing about him. I know even less about swimming. That is why I chose David Hockney painting to start off this post. To me it is iconic and, since we don’t see the swimmer, the swimmer might as well be me and the pool as a stand-in for Kiyomori himself. See? So, if you will bare with me let’s go on this adventure and I just hope I don’t drown us both in the process.
The original of this painting, A Bigger Splash, dates from 1967 and is in the Tate. I know that it is still under copyright laws as far as reproductions are concerned and those are the property of David Hockney (b. 1937) himself. But.. there are so many reproductions of it out there in the ether that I would hope he would forgive this transgression. Besides, I am an enormous fan of his work and feel that I am doing tribute to him and mean no harm. If, however, a credible source wants me to remove this image I will. But remember, it has to be credible.
Now for my regular disclaim: I have just started this post with a few choice, juicy images that I hope will intrigue you and get you to come back soon and often to see what ‘so-called’ information I will be able to provide. I’ll try to do right by you. I always do. I am no slacker, but, of course, I might just drown before I get much done. Glub, glub. Let’s hope not.
Xylography? An old-time little used word these days. But that being said, the second definition from the American Heritage Dictionary says: “The art of printing texts or illustrations, sometimes with color, from woodblocks, as distinct from typography.” Merriam Webster says “the art of making engravings on wood especially for printing”. But if these definitions don’t satisfy your curiosity needs, then all I can say is “Calm down and go and play your xylophone for a while. Chill bro!”
Kiyomori the warrior –
Surimono of Kiyomori as a warrior by Yashima Gakutei (1786-1868)
Mead Art Museum, Amherst College
Kiyomori (“Man of Valor”) by Yoshitoshi Mori from 1972
Cleveland Museum of Art
[The same principle used for showing the Hockney painting is being used here.
If any credible source would like me to remove this from this post please let me know.]
Kiyomori’s biggest mistake ever and how it came back to bite him and his – In 1156 there was a play for power within the imperial family. It pitted elements of the Fujiwara, Minamoto and Taira clans against each other. The only member of the Minamoto who fought on the side of Taira no Kiyomori was Yoshitomo (1123-60). They besieged the palace of Shirakawa which was defended by Yoshitomo’s father and brother, Tametomo. “The latter were defeated; Yoshitomo begged in vain for his father’s life: Kiyomori had him put to death.” To make matters worse, Yoshitomo was dissatisfied with his share of the spoils, so he rebelled against Kiyomori and lost. He was killed by one of his own men and his head was sent to Kyoto.
This is where the story gets even more interesting. Yoshitomo’s wife, Tokiwa Gozen, was particularly beautiful. She bore her husband three sons. After her husband was killed she fled with her children, but surrendered to Kiyomori when she heard that her husband was dead. In the meantime, Kiyomori had also captured Tokiwa Gozen’s mother and was torturing her. Knowing this Tokiwa Gozen agreed to marry Kiyomori if he would let her children live. He agreed and that was his mistake, because decades later one of them grew up to lead the revolt against the Taira which led to their final annihilation.
Below is a wonderful picture by Kuniyoshi of Tokiwa Gozen trying to escape through the snow with her three children. They are barely visible within the folds of her robes, but they are there. Only the shaved top of the youngest’s head is visible near his mother’s face.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Utagawa school painting of Tokiwa and her children fleeing
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Maybe I should try to set up a chronology of some kind. Whatchathink? This part may be doomed to failure. If it is then just look at the pictures at this post and even read some of the scholarly quotes and forget the rest.
1118 Born, the son of Taira Tadamori. In Kyoto: A Contemplative Guide by Gouverneur Mosher from 1964 it says:
“Kiyomori’s mother was originally a concubine of the retired Emperor Shirakawa; one day the latter presented her to Taira Tadamori in reward for a courageous act. At the time of this presentation, however, it appears that the woman was pregnant, and the child she eventually bore, actually Shirakawa’s, became none other than Taira Kiyomori. Thus it may well be argued that this man who led the Taira to their glory was not a Taira at all, but an emperor’s son whom his adoptive clan could not replace when he died.”
1156 The Hōgen insurrection – “The conflict was on a small scale—the outcome determined by a single night’s fighting—yet it was highly significant in that it demonstrated the inability of the courtiers to settle major differences without reliance on the power of the warriors.” Quoted from the Britannica.
1159 The Heiji Disturbance and the burning of the Emperor’s palace – “Conflicts over rewards arose between the two successful Hōgen generals, Minamoto Yoshitomo and Taira Kiyomori, and, in the Heiji Disturbance (1159) that followed, the two warrior clans were pitted against one another. The Minamoto were thoroughly defeated, and Taira Kiyomori emerged as a major power in the land.” (ibid.) Below is a detail from a 13th century handscroll painting of the burning of Sanjō Palace. The scroll is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Paul Varley wrote:
One of the finest of these [i.e., emaki] is the Tale of Heiji Scroll, which deals with the conflict in 1159 (known as the Heiji Conflict) in which the Ise Taira under Kiyomori vanquished their Minamoto rivals and began their rise to power in Kyoto. The scroll is actually in three parts, the first of which is a long, panoramic view of the Burning of the Sanjo Palace, during which the Minamoto kidnaped the abdicated emperor Go-shirakawa (1127-92) and precipitated the Heiji Conflict. This part of the Heiji Scroll was obtained by the American Ernest Fenollosa (1853- 1 908) in the late nineteenth century and placed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where it remains today, one of the most treasured of Japanese art works held outside Japan.
1167 He became the Head of the Imperial Council and therefore the true leader of Japan. He was made dajō-daijin (太政大臣) or Grand Minister.
1168 Was very ill and became a tonsured lay priest taking the name Jōkai (浄階).
1179 “In 1179/11 Taira Kiyomori staged a coup d’etat against the ex-sovereign [Go-Shirakawa] and forced large numbers of his supporters from office. Among the casualties was Fujiwara Yoshimori, Go-Shirakawa’s hand-picked governor of Suō, who was replaced by a Taira. As he was wont to do on so many other occasions during his lengthy carreer, however, Go-Shirakawa seems to have bounced back quickly. By 1181 the Taira governor was gone…” (This is quoted from Court and Bakufu in Japan: Essays in Kamakura History by Jeffrey Mass.)
One of Kiyomori’s daughter married to a Fujiwara family member for tactical reasons died and their lands were seized by the retired emperor.
Kiyomori’s heir Shigemori died two months later and Echizen, the area he ruled, was also grabbed by Go-Shirakawa’s group. Paul Varley in his Warriors of Japan: As Portrayed in the War Tales wrote: “Shigemori, according to the Heike, commits suicide — or, rather, allows himself to fall sick and die— after receiving a sign from the god of the Kumano Shrines that the good fortune of the Taira will indeed run out in “a single generation”— that is, it will end soon and not extend to the sons and grandsons of Kiyomori45 Shigemori’s death, which occurs in 1179, symbolizes the beginning of the end of the Taira.”
1179-80 Kiyomori’s dictatorship: “…Taira Kiyomori, Yoritomo’s rival in the capital, took the fateful step of advancing his authority there to the level of a personal dictatorship. The impact of this dictatorship was felt throughout the country, provoking a deep sense of malaise. By his seizure of governorships and estate proprietorships, Kiyomori proceeded to upset the traditional balance of interests at Court and in the provinces. At this point point a disaffected imperial prince (Mochihito) issued a call to arms, and four months later Yoritomo, from his place of exile in the east, declared war on his Taira adversaries. This marked the beginning of the Genpei conflict of 1180-85.” (Also quoted from Mass.)
1180 He made his two year old grandson Antoku emperor. He also moved his capital to Fukuhara (福原), modern Kōbe, but was forced to move it back to Kyoto after 6 months.
“By the eleventh month of 1179, the situation could hardly have looked more discouraging for the capital nobles. On the one hand, their aristocratic peers had just suffered a serious defeat, and extensive government efforts to quell the worker-monks had failed. On the other hand, Kiyomori must have shocked most courtiers when he placed Go-Shirakawa under house arrest, put his own grandson (Antoku) on the throne…” (Quoted from: The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers, and Warriors in Premodern Japan by Mikael S. Adolphson.)
Adolphson also wrote: “…when Emperor Takakura abdicated in favor of Kiyomori’s grandson (Emperor Antoku), Kiyomori had the new retired sovereign make his first shrine visit to the Heike-affiliated Itsukushima shrine in Aki Province in the third month of 1180. Previous retired emperors had more commonly made their first pilgrimages to Iwashimizu, Kamo, or Kasuga, though there were also some examples of visits to Kumano (Shirakawa) and Hiesha (Go-Shirakawa). The Enryakuji monks seem to have expected to visit Hiesha, but Kiyomori chose Itsukushima, evoking the resentment of many monks on Mt. Hiei. Second, Kiyomori’s move of the court away from Kyoto, in part caused by the resistance from Kōfukuji and Onjōji, to his mansion in Fukuhara early in the sixth month of 1180 was clearly not popular with the Enryakuji monks, who lost much of the direct influence on capital politics that the proximity of Mt. Hiei provided.”
1181 Died on March 21 according to the Western calendar.
Lightnin’ Stiking Again – quote here by Lou Christie, 1965 or so
During the Visit of Kiyomori to the Nunobiki Waterfall, the Ghost of Akugenda Yoshihira Strikes Down Nanba Jirō
by Kuniyoshi, ca. 1825 – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In a book by David Bialock, published in 2007 it says: “According to the Heiji monogatari, which records the Heike’s defeat of Minamoto no Yoshitomo during the Heiji Rebellion, the Minamoto warrior Akugenda Yoshihira, who was beheaded by the Taira retainer Nanba no Saburō Tsunefusa, later returned in the form of a lightning bolt and struck Tsunefusa dead in an act revenge.”
Below is a closer view of the Akugenta/lightning bolt scene in another rendition – sans Kiyomori.
One of the stories supporting this mythic tale about the lightning bolt is that when Akugenta was facing death, he stared down his opponent and vowed revenge. Just as he did this there was a clap of thunder. What more proof would one need?
Kiyomori and the shrine at Itsukushima –
Totoya Hokkei (1780-1850) surimono of the goddess Benzaiten appearing to Kiyomori at the shrine at Itsukushima
Harvard Art Museums
Joshua spoke with the Lord, and he said in the presence of Israel: Stand still, O Sun in Gibeon –
Yoshitoshi of Kiyomori commanding the sun not to set
Kunichika print of an actor as Kiyomori on a hagoita
from the Nation Diet Library
1859 Toyokuni III from the collection of Ritsumeikan University
The Taira and Nō theater – Margaret Tsuda wrote in the June 22, 1983 edition of the Christian Science Monitor: “The Taira clan gained military and political dominance over all Japan in the 12th century under the leadership of this Kiyomori. But the Taira were haughty, so much so that when the writers of No plays wanted to point out the bitter fruits of excessive pride, a member of the Taira was usually chosen as protagonist.”
Kiyomori as a lay priest: Redemption?
Following a serious illness in 1868 Kiyomori was tonsured and took the name Jōkai.
Kunimasa print of Sawamura Sōjūrō III from ca. 1795 as the lay priest Kiyomori
from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
Small 13th century wooden sculpture (8 11/16″ x 9″) of Kiyomori
What do a portrait of an actor as an angry priest – i.e., Kiyomori – and a restaurant have in common?
I don’t know if it strikes any of you as interesting that 671 years after the death of Kiyomori a representation of him via a famous actor appeared on a Japanese woodblock print which was probably meant to promote a restaurant in Edo, a virtual advertisement. What the connection was I don’t know, but I do know that it strikes me as a bit odd, a bit of a stretch.
This print is a collaboration between Hiroshige and Toyokuni III.
It shows the actor Nakamura Utaemon IV as the priest Taira no Kiyomori below
and the Hirasei restaurant along the riverside above. It is from the series Famous Restaurants of the Eastern Capital.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Being a priest didn’t mean he didn’t still like the ladies –
Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) of Hotoke Gozen Dancing before Kiyomori from 1765
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In The Hundred Poets Compared it says:
“As related in the Heike, there lives in Kyoto two sisters Giō and Gin’yo, who are famous shirabyōshi. Kiyomori takes a particular fancy to Giō and honours her family with a splendid house and a generous allowance. Three years later, a 16-year-old girl, Hotoke Gozen, who has acquired quite a reputation as a shirabyōshi, calls unbidden upon Kiyomori at his palace. At first she is sent away but through Giō’s efforts she is called back and permitted to perform. Kiyomori is so enchanted by Hotoke’s beauty and dancing skills that he asks her to stay in his residence. Hotoke feels deeply indebted to Giō and she is very upset when Kiyomori orders Giō to leave the palace and withdraws her allowance. Unable to bear the disgrace, Giō, her sister and mother become nuns and retreat to a thatched hut deep in the Sagano hills. Soon thereafter they are joined by Hotoke who chooses to suffer the same fate. It is said that the four women were rewarded for their pious conduct and went to paradise together.”
This print is actually a calendar, of sorts – David Waterhouse wrote of the print shown above:
“The great dictator, wearing white monastic robes and with his head shaved, sits in a raised alcove in an upper room of his palace, and places an arm round his favourite Giō Gozen. Together with another girl (probably Giō’s sister Ginyo) they watch a spring dance performed by Hotoke Gozen. Behind them is a folding screen with a painting of peonies; and outside a maple tree in autumn leaf. Characters in the border of the screen indicate the year (1765) and its cyclical signs: Meiwa ni, kinoto tori. The border of the blind (misu) contains characters indicating he short months (shō: 4, 7, 9, 11, 12); while the obi of Hotoke Gozen gives the large months (dai: 2, 3, 5, 6,8, 10).”
Hiroshige’s version – Victoria and Albert Museum
Yoshitoshi triptych in the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Chikanobu print of the same theme.
John Stevenson wrote of the print shown above: “In this illustration Kiyomori is sitting on a verandah in the Fukuhara palace. To his deranged mind the handles in the translucent sliding screens form the eyes of a huge skull. He stares out into the garden at his hallucinations; fear flickers behind the cruel mask. His head is shaved, as he nominally became a monk in 1168; his good works were limited to building magnificent temples in a vainglorious attempt to buy off retribution for his sins.”
Helen Craig McCullough gives this description from The Tale of Heike:
“Again, Kiyomori left his curtain-dais one morning, pushed open the outer door, and found the inner courtyard full of innumerable skulls, which clashed and rebounded with a frightful clatter and rumble, rolling up and down and in and out. He called for his attendants. “Is someone on duty? Is anyone around?” But nobody happened to be within earshot. All the skulls came together into a single enormous whole, larger than the entire garden — a veritable mountain a hundred and forty or fifty feet high. In that great head, there appeared thousands and myriads of big human eyes, all of which fixed on Kiyomori with an unblinking, angry stare. Kiyomori stood his ground unperturbed, glaring back, and the wrath in his gaze made the great skull vanish without a trace, just as frost or dew melts in the sun’s rays.”
1677 illustration to The Tale of Heike by an unknown artist.
Illustration by Teisai Hokuba (蹄斎北馬: 1771-1844) in the collection of Waseda University.
Royall Tyler gives us a translation that explains the large head and the scene in the background.
“The move to Fukuhara over, the Heike began having nightmares that regularly set their hearts pounding.They often witnessed apparitions. One night an enormous face, a full bay wide, peered into the room where Lord Kiyomori lay. Untroubled, Kiyomori glared hard at it until it melted away. The Oka Palace, as it was called, having been only recently built, had no trees worth mentioning anywhere near it, but one night there came a crash, as of a great tree falling, and a roar of laughter that if human could well have come from two dozen people.
This was obviously some tengu prank, and they posted a “whistler guard”: one hundred men by night, fifty by day, to shoot whistling arrows. But when the archers shot toward the tengu, they got back dead silence, whereas arrows shot (so they thought) elsewhere provoked loud laughter.”
Death throes – the fever
Yoshitoshi triptych Taira no Kiyomori Burns with Fever (Taira no Kiyomori hi no yamai no zu – 平清盛炎焼病之図)
from August 1883 in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In Yoshitoshi, the Splendid Decadent it says of this triptych:
“True to the manner of medieval epics, the death of the tyrant Taira no Kiyomori (1118-81) takes on a supernatural dimension in the classic Tale of the Heike Clan (Heike Monogatari). First his wife Nii-dono has a nightmarish vision in which a carriage appears from the depths of hell destined to carry Kiyomori away in karmic retribution for having burned a temple. She then offers her prized possessions in the hopes of appeasing Emma-ō… the King of Hell, but it is all in vain. Kiyomori succumbs to an intense fever, and not even the prayers of his children gathered at his bedside can relieve him of his misery, as he convulses in fits of hallucination.
In Yoshitoshi’s print, Nii-dono and her son kneel in prayer while Kiyomori writhes in a fit of madness. Behind him emerges a demonic dreamscape of hell, presided over by the merciless Emma-ō in the center. Deceased souls of Kiyomori’s victims drift into view along with fiendish ogres and other denizens of the netherworld. Yoshitoshi emphasizes the hallucinatory intensity of the fever-dream with an unusual yellow, green, and violet color scheme instead of the more typical flame orange and red.”
Royall Tyler, in his wonderful translation of The Tale of Heike, gives us a great description of Kiyomori’s agonies at the end of his life. This appears in part 7 of Book 6.
From the very first day of Lord Kiyomori’s illness, nothing passed his
lips, not even water, and his body burned like fire. The heat within
twenty-five or thirty feet of where he lay was unbearable. His only
words were “Hot! Hot!” This was clearly no common affliction. When
he stepped down into a stone basin filled with water from the Senju
sprint on Mount Hiei, to cool himself, the water bubbled furiously
around him and soon boiled.
Water sprayed on him from a bamboo pipe, to give him relief,
recoiled as though from hot stone or iron and never reached him.
What water did touch him turned to fire.
Black smoke filled the room, and flames swirled high in the air.
The Tale then gives a description of the Reverend Hōzō visiting Emma-ō in hell in search of his mother. Emma-ō directs him to “the hell of fierce heat” where flames were “darting skyward like shooting stars…” Then the text returns to Kiyomori and his suffering.
Lady Kiyomori’s wife, Lady Nii, had a terrifying dream.
A fiercely burning carriage drove in through the gate,
escorted before and behind by beings with the heads of horses or oxen.
The front of the carriage displayed, on an iron tablet, the single character mu.
Lady Nii asked in the dream what to make of this.
“We have come from King Emma’s court,” she was told, to receive Lord Kiyomori.”
“What does the iron tablet mean?”
“For the crime of burning the sixteen-foot, gilt-bronze Roshana
on Jambudvīpa, the southern continent of men,
King Emma has sentenced Kiyomori to the depths of Muken,
the hell of unbroken agony. The mu is written, but not yet the ken.”
Dripping with perspiration, the astonished Lady Nii related her dream,
and the hair rose on all those who heard her.
The family then gave offerings to temples and shrines, but to no avail.
Lord Kiyomori’s sons and daughters
gathered at their father’s bedside,
bewildered and deeply distressed,
but no sign offered any hope.
On the second day of the intercalary second month, Lady Nii braved the
terrible heat to approach her husband’s pillow and address him, weeping.
“My despair grows daily at he sight of you,” she said. If you still
desire anything in this life please, when your mind clears a little, tell
me what it is.”
He whispered painfully that all he wanted was that Yoritomo’s head be cut off and hung before his grave. “That is the only commemoration I wish.”
What profoundly sinful words!
On the fourth his torment was such that, as a last resort,
he lay down on a board dripping with water. It did not help.
He writhed in agony, gasping for breath, and finally died in convulsions.
The fiery carriage from hell –
Toyokuni III print of Kiyomori looking up at an image of a fiery carriage.
This dates from 1858 and is in the collection of the National Diet Library
Peace at last – Of course it depends on how you look at it. From Kiyomori’s perspective death meant eternal agony and damnation in hell. But for many other people today they would say, “At least death brought an end to his suffering.” Another interesting side note is that of an account by William Elliot Griffis visit to this area in ca. 1875, but not published until 1906: “…[Hyōgo as a city] was erected in the days of Taira glory. Its name means “arsenal,” but peaceful trade now rules its streets. Near it stands Kiyomori’s tomb. On the site of the Taira palace stands a great brothel.”
1865 card of Kiyomori’s tomb in Hyōgo (兵庫) from the collection of
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Ah, progess! According to one credible web site Kiyomori’s zuka was moved to its current location when there was a railroad expansion plan. Unfortunately, we don’t know how far it was moved, but still…
In Around the World through Japan from 1904 the author says: “Then on to Kōbe and Hyōgo, which are on either bank of the little tree-lined Minato-gawa, where there is the tomb of Kusunoki Massashige, the fourteenth-century warrior who was defeated, and committed harakiri here rather than fly.
The bronze Daibutsu of Hyōgo is a modern work somewhat smaller than the Daibutsu of Kamakura, and not to be compared with it as a work of art. The smaller bronze Amida, by the lotus pond of Shinkōji, is much finer artistically. It is just opposite the thirteen-storeyed pagoda built as a monument to Kiyomori, the twelfth-century head of the then ruling house of Taira. We saw the sun setting over the neighbourhood from the roof of the two-storeyed tea-house on the peninsula of Wada no Misaki, and greatly enjoyed the panorama of the town and shipping, as well as the view of the hills on one side, and Ōsaka Bay with the island of Awaji on the other.”
The Kiyomori-zuka as it looks today, sort of – May 2012.
Photo posted at commons.wikimedia by Pastern.
Google maps – Kobe area
A curious print by Hiroshige II showing Kiyomori’s tomb –
Aki Province, #49 in a series of 68 Views by Hiroshige II from 1862
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Fact or Fiction? The Myths –
At Kongōbuji (金剛峯寺) is a mandala generally referred to as the “Mandala of Two Realms of Esoteric Buddhism” (両界曼荼羅図) or the Blood Mandala because Kiyomori made the artists paint it with his own blood mixed with a red pigment. Scholars now think it dates from the Muromachi period in the 15th century long after Kiyomori had died. But it is a good story.
Now for a riff on words, i.e., vocabulary – It is no accident that I picked the word ‘xylography’ to put in the title line of this post. Of course, I had to look it up to be absolutely sure I could use it here and in this way. I can. A xylograph is any printed image made from a carved piece of wood, including woodblock prints. The world was extremely popular in the late 19th century and it was not unheard of that it was the word used to describe ukiyo prints. But, alas, sigh, it has gone out of fashion and is almost and archaic term. If it isn’t, it will be probably at least where it applies to Japanese prints. But that is not my point.. Let me digress for a moment or two. A bright young friend of mine and I talk on the phone often. Whenever we do he will interrupt me and say “What was that word you just used? You know I don’t know it and you threw it in there just to show off.” I always protest, sometimes feebly, sometimes with genuine conviction. Is it my fault that I am older and have a large active vocabulary than he does? I am a reader. A damned slow one, but a reader all the same. When I was in my early 20s I decided I didn’t want to stop every time I came to a word I didn’t know and look it up and try to commit it to memory or just skip over it and hope I got the gist of what the author was trying to say. Hence, now that I am a lot older, a lot older, words like xylography bounce around in my head and rarely if ever get used.
Sometime in the last year or so those wonderful people who administer the SATs decided they would no longer test students on rarely used words that seldom show up in the real world. Personally I think that is a mistake. Bunkum, I say. Balderdash! Harrumph! Harrumph! [Said twice for emphasis.]
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a word snob, or for that matter, a language one either. But… what a waste of perfectly useless words. Poor words. Poor, poor words. One more point which I almost forgot: I told my young friend to make a list of all of the words he doesn’t know and to send them to me so I will know not to mention them when we talk.